American Now Limits the Number of Flights You Can Book On An Award (Because Somehow American Awards Were Too Generous Before)

  • Traveler
  • August 4, 2017
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American is Placing New Limits on Award Routings

American just added rules limiting the number of segments you’re allowed to fly on an award.

In each direction you will only be allowed to have:

  • Domestic and Canada: Three segments
  • Other destinations (including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) Four segments

At first blush that seems reasonable. Who wants to take more flights than that to get where they’re going?

On closer inspection though it’s:

  • one more step from a program that seems to be afraid that someone, somewhere might be getting value from their miles.

  • one more restriction from a program that hasn’t realized yet it’s continually cutting costs while its most relevant competitors — bank programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards — are spending unprecedented amounts wooing customers.

  • one more restriction when I have a hard time remembering that last positive thing the program did (other than upgrades on domestic awards for Executive Platinums and Concierge Key members something competitors already offered more generously).

American Already Has Among the Most Stringent (Punitive) Routing Rules

The value of miles is a combination of the number of miles a saver award costs (pricing or award chart), award availability (how easy it is to get the award you want), and routing rules (what flights you’re allowed to combine to get where you’re going).

American’s rules are so complicated that I wrote the Ultimate Guide to Booking Award Tickets Using American AAdvantage miles.

In a nutshell you have to fly a published routing of the primary carrier on your award. You have to fly within a set number of maximum allowable miles for the trip. In addition awards to Asia must go via the Pacific even it’s no more travel to go via the Atlantic. No stopovers are permitted. And you aren’t allowed to connect in a region other than your origin or destination region unless there’s a specific (unpublished) exception, the list of which I catalogued.

Now in addition to all of those rules you are limited in the number of segments you can fly.

American Says They’re Doing This to Enforce an Existing Rule

An American spokesperson explained “The changes we are implementing are in line with our most direct routing rule and allows us to better support our partner airlines.”

But that’s not really true. American has long said you have to take the most direct routing but American’s internal rule always said that “[t]he number of awards assessed should be determined by the customer’s intentions.”

If the indirect routing is booked at the customer’s request, multiple awards should apply using Pricing Override Options – Force Fare Breakpoint. If the routing is booked based on lack of award availability on direct routes, then an exception may be made, allowing Sabre to price as one award.

In fact American has allowed customers to travel 25% over the published Maximum Permitted Mileage for a given city pair, as long as the routing doesn’t fall afoul of published routing rules for the most significant carrier on the itinerary and doesn’t fall afoul of the ‘no third region’ rule (and crosses the correct ocean).

American’s rule has been that you’re allowed to book an indirect routing as long as you don’t want to do so. If that’s all that’s available, it’s been allowed. Now if that’s all that’s available, it’s not allowed.

No One Is Choosing More Flight Segments If They Don’t Have To

There are times where several connections are actually necessary. Say that I live in Wichita Falls, Texas and I want to go to one of the myriad destinations in Alaska that American’s redemption partner Alaska Airlines flies to. You’d have to fly Wichita Falls – Dallas – Seattle – Anchorage – Beyond for most cities in Alaska. It’s bad enough the Alaska Airlines partnership is being gutted, now many redemptions are off the table as a single award, too.

Most of the time though several connections is something customers hate, but deal with because of poor AAdvantage award availability. If you live in an international gateway city, where American’s partners fly out of (good luck ever getting saver awards on American itself), you’re fine under these rules. But if you need to connect domestically to get to the city you’ll fly internationally from? Good luck.

If you can find award space on American at all it’s likely a connection. Even if you live in Dallas and need to fly out of Chicago that may be two segments just to find award space, and that’s if you’re lucky. Call it Dallas – Kansas City – Chicago. And from there you might fly to Tokyo (Japan Airlines) to Kuala Lumpur and then to Langkawi, a popular Malaysian beach destination served by oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines.

Except that’s five flights, not allowed, you pay more miles. And the reason you pay more miles isn’t because you want more flying, American is adding a surcharge for their own poor award availability.

If you want to fly transatlantic without fuel surcharges your best bet was Jet Airways Toronto – Amsterdam. Of course AAdvantage is losing that partnership at the end of the year. But to take advantage of it you’d have to fly to Chicago or New York and then to Toronto. Then you’d fly to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam you’d need to connect in London or Madrid or Helsinki to your final destination.

You didn’t want five flights, that was a last resort that’s a function of American’s poor award availability but even that’s being taken away.

American is losing partnerships, they’re more restrictive offering award space than ever, and they’re wondering why it’s so hard to convince people to earn their miles rather than a competitor’s. They need to consider doing this that actually benefit their members rather than worry that members might find a way to get value from the program.